Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Patient Safety

Learn Not Blame: how a grassroots campaign struck a chord

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 18 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4232
  1. Francesca Robinson, freelance journalist
  1. Hampshire, UK
  1. fran.robinson8{at}

In the wake of the Bawa-Garba case a campaign by the Doctors’ Association UK to end blame culture in the NHS has received high profile support. Francesca Robinson reports

“Your campaign is crucial. It will change minds. It will change approaches and lead to far greater success than outmoded ways of thinking. Your title tells the story: ‘Learn Not Blame.’” This was how, by video message, the safety expert Don Berwick endorsed a campaign that says that blaming professionals when healthcare goes wrong poisons efforts to learn from what happened. The UK government’s former patient safety adviser, Berwick is president emeritus and senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Doctors’ Association UK launched its Learn Not Blame campaign just six months ago in the wake of the Hadiza Bawa-Garba case. It calls for a change in the culture of the NHS to improve patients’ safety and healthcare professionals’ wellbeing, and it is already having an impact.

In 2015 the trainee paediatrician Bawa-Garba was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter after a boy in her care, Jack Adcock, died. She received a suspended prison sentence (

The Doctors’ Association UK was formed in 2018 by doctors outraged when the General Medical Council won a High Court appeal to erase Bawa-Garba from the medical register despite a ruling by a medical practitioner tribunal that she was safe to practise. She successfully appealed.

A cake iced with the phrase “Learn Not Blame” was subsequently delivered to the GMC, warning it of what was to come.

Climate of fear

The Learn Not Blame campaign wants an end to the threat of imprisonment for doctors who make mistakes, to reduce what it describes as a climate of fear in the NHS.

The campaign’s lead, Cicely Cunningham, a clinical oncology trainee in Glasgow, …

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